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Farm modelling specialist awarded GRDC honour

CSIRO’s research scientist Dr Jeremy Whish has won GRDC’s Northern Recognising and Rewarding Excellence Award for his contribution to modelling of farming system trials and the outcomes he’s delivered to grain growers.
Photo: GRDC

When CSIRO’s Farming systems research scientist, Jeremy Whish started presenting modelling scenarios to growers over 20 years ago, he said he’d use half of his time justifying why the model could be trusted.

Fast forward to today and Dr Whish has been awarded the GRDC coveted Recognising and Rewarding Excellence Award for his continued contribution to the modelling of farming system trials and the outcomes he’s delivered to northern growers.

Dr Whish’s work focuses on developing modelling to understand the complexity of farming systems and identifying management strategies to reduce production risk across these systems.

This includes building scenarios that could help predict a crop’s response to changes in farm management practices, including the cost benefits or impacts of things like planting more crops in a year, leaving a paddock fallow or introducing a cover crop to a rotation.

GRDC Northern Panel Chair, John Minogue says the Recognising and Rewarding Excellence Award celebrates the grain sector’s most committed researchers and innovators and Dr Whish’s work certainly aligned with the criteria.

“Jeremy has consistently delivered high class research to the northern grains sector and communicated his findings in a way that growers can use across their own production systems,” he says.

“He has been a trailblazer in incorporating modelling information into growers’ toolboxes, giving them access to meaningful data that looks at how certain management practices or scenarios could improve or hinder our bottom lines.”

“Many elements of farming are about assessing the risks associated with management decisions. Having access to experienced specialists, such as Jeremy, who develop trustworthy information and work with us to help make more informed management decisions, will continue to improve our industry’s productivity.”

Dr Whish started his research career in the weeds sector, looking at crop weed competition. This was the catalyst that led him to explore APSIM simulation modelling to understand competition for resources, which he’s been working on with CSIRO for 22 years.

With an array of experience in the industry, Dr Whish says one of the most rewarding parts of his career has been working with growers and consultants, learning from them about their systems and testing their ideas within the model.

“A significant difference from the beginning is the shift in trust that growers now have for our modelling research and the value it can provide to them,” he says.

“Modelling is a safe testing ground for growers and consultants, who spend a lot of time looking at their systems and asking “what if?”.”

“The results of modelling are never going to be 100 per cent right because it’s about probability. What we can do is show the likelihood of the results of different scenarios and growers can use this to make decisions.”

“Everyone’s risk profile is different, so the decision is always going to be with the growers and their advisers, but we can help them make more informed decisions.”

Dr Whish says he was completely surprised and thrilled to receive the GRDC award and was thankful for the support and investment the organisation has given to his work.

“I’ve worked with groups in other countries who are incredibly envious of how GRDC works with researchers - it’s a good system that I'm grateful for,” he says.

Dr Whish has been working to increase APSIM system modelling capability by including population modelling of weeds and disease.

The award’s bursary could support his plans to further develop APSIM’s disease lifestyle model. He also wants to work with leading economists to assess the modelling data and develop tangible whole system economic metrics.

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